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Prosecutors plan to use Trump's words against him in documents case

President Donald Trump. Courtesy Voice of America.
Brett Rowland

(The Center Square) – Federal prosecutors plan to use former President Donald Trump's comments about former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton against him in a case alleging he illegally kept classified documents. 

Special counsel Jack Smith's team of prosecutors must prove Trump's actions were willful as opposed to careless.

Prosecutors allege he kept sensitive military documents, shared them with people who didn't have security clearance and tried to evade the government's efforts to get them back.

Trump talked about classified documents often during the 2016 presidential election campaign against Clinton when Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state was a point of controversy. 

"In my administration I'm going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information," Trump said August 18, 2016. "No one will be above the law."

September 6, 2016, Trump said: "We can't have someone in the Oval Office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified." The next day he said: "One of the first things we must do is enforce all classification rules and to enforce all laws relating to the handling of classified information."

And five days before the 2016 election, Trump said: "Service members here in North Carolina have risked their lives to acquire classified intelligence to protect our country."

Prosecutors included five public statements from Trump on classified documents in the 49-page indictment. They also noted a July 26, 2018, statement Trump made while president.

"More broadly, the issue of Mr. Brennan's security clearance raises larger questions about the practice of former officials maintaining access to our Nation’s most sensitive secrets long after their time in Government has ended. Such access is particularly inappropriate when former officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions and seek to use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate their political attacks. Any access granted to our Nation’s secrets should be in furtherance of national, not personal, interests," Trump said after he decided to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that Clinton and her colleagues "were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information." 

"Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case," then-FBI Director James Comey said in July 2016. "Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent."

Trump pleaded not guilty to 37 counts that allege he kept sensitive military documents, shared them with people who didn't have security clearance, and tried to get around the government's efforts to get them back. He is charged with 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information along with conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, scheme to conceal and false statements and representations.

The indictment laid out the charges against Trump and Nauta. Trump was charged with keeping classified documents after leaving office and later obstructing the government's efforts to get them back. The indictment contains specific dates and times with to-the-minute details of where the documents were stored, where they were moved, and who was involved.

Among the records were 197 that contained classified markings, including 98 marked "secret" and 30 marked "top secret." The "top secret" designation means that unauthorized disclosure "reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage" to national security," according to the indictment. Trump turned those records over to the National Archives and Records Administration January 17, 2022, in response to demands from that federal agency.

June 3, 2022, an attorney for Trump provided the Federal Bureau of Investigation with 38 additional documents with classified markings. And during a raid of Mar-a-Lago August 8, 2022, the FBI recovered 102 additional documents with classified markings.

While the U.S. Secret Service provided security to Trump while he was at his Palm Beach property, Trump never told the agency that classified documents were stored there, according to the indictment. Mar-a-Lago hosted 150 social events – such as weddings, fundraisers and movie premieres for tens of thousands of guests from January 2021, when Trump left office, through the FBI raid August 8, 2022. Mar-a-Lago had about 150 employees during that time, prosecutors said in the indictment.

Prosecutors allege the documents belong to some of the nation's most secret agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, the Department of Energy and the Department of State.

The documents contained information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of the United States and other allied nations, U.S. nuclear programs, plans for possible retaliation in case of an attack and potential U.S. vulnerabilities, according to the indictment.

Trump stored the boxes in several locations at Mar-a-Lago, his social club with 25 guest rooms in Palm Beach. The boxes that contained classified documents were stored in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom and a storage room, prosecutors alleged in the indictment.

The club was not authorized to store classified documents.

Prosecutors further alleged that Trump showed classified documents to people not authorized to see such records. In one case on July 21, 2021, at the Bedminster Club in New Jersey, Trump allegedly showed a writer, a publisher and two staff members classified documents. During the recorded interview, Trump said that the documents were "highly classified" and that could have declassified them while president, but could no longer do so after leaving office, according to the indictment. In August or September 2021, prosecutors allege Trump showed a representative of his political action committee a classified map of a country.

In April, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts in New York related to charges he paid hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels through a lawyer before the 2016 presidential election and covered it up as a legal expense before being elected president.